Movie Review | Moneyball
Movie summary: Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. (IMDb)
I first saw Moneyball on Netflix, years after it came out and am almost glad I didn't see it on the big screen, although that isn't intended as the insult it probably sounds like. There's nothing 'big' about this movie and, not having the slightest interest in baseball, the material was never going to be something that would entice me to pay for a ticket anyway.
Then again, this isn't really a movie about baseball. Obviously, it's integral to the plot, but it isn't the story here - the core of the movie is following Brad Pitt as Billy Beane and his desperate desire to achieve something special and change the way people think about something that he has loved for pretty much his entire life.
Pitt is great in the role, although it's probably best to not watch this in a double bill with Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood thanks to this being another role for Pitt as someone whose potentially best years are quite possibly behind him even if he does still have a huge role to play at this point in his life.
He's more than ably assisted by Jonah Hill, who shows off just how good an actor he really is as Peter Brand, who Beane recruits to help him assemble a successful baseball team on a shoestring budget. Hill is best known for his comedic roles, or simply being larger than life in something like Wolf of Wall Street, but he gives a wonderfully restrained and subtle performance here that deserves as much appreciation as possible.
The rest of the cast is pretty good too, although I wasn't a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman's coach, Art Howe, who is a perpetually antagonistic mirror to Beane who escapes any karmic retribution solely due to keeping to reality. And just to make clear: Hoffman is great in the role, it's just that he's a bit too good at playing an annoying prick!
It's also a little weird to watch this and see a younger Chris Pratt playing an insecure, doubt-filled player rather than the cocky, doubt-free heroes he is more known for these days. Much like those already mentioned, he's really good here and also shows off his range as an actor, making me wish we could see him in more roles that require him to show off his impressive dramatic skills.
The reason I'm concentrating so much on the characters is that the plot of Moneyball is a little dry, as outlined in the summary right at the top of this post. The Oakland A's have no money to spend on top players, so Beane and Brand have to think waaay outside of the box to try and compete with the competition, relying on players that none of the scouts or coaching staff think are much good at all.
There is a certain satisfaction to seeing a sports movie boiled down to mathematics and numbers rather than the expected passion and emotion - although those elements certainly play a role too. But those moments are character-related, not situation-mandated like lesser movies where the plucky losers are given a rousing speech that turns everything around.
Speeches are given and corners are turned, but it's that focus on everything being character driven that makes Moneyball shine. When Beane goes into the locker room to talk to the players, it's because he needs to say something that is important to him, not because he wants to feed the players' egos or pump them up.
Hell, the only time the baseball provides any emotion is seeing the real life footage of the incredible winning streak the Oakland A's actually went on and the crowd reactions we are shown. That real life enthusiasm from the masses is the perfect counter-balance to Pitt's very personal crusade to achieve something that matters to him.
Moneyball isn't going to be a movie that appeals to everyone, because - sorry to those that love the sport - baseball isn't the most thrill-a-minute spectacle for a world where football can change your emotions drastically within minutes. Neither is the focus on the statistical side of building a baseball team going to really win over most people.
I really enjoyed Moneyball though, with some great performances and a script that does enough to keep a very dry subject interesting to watch for a couple of hours. The best way to approach the movie is to not even think about it as a baseball film, because it really isn't. Just sit back, relax and enjoy Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill giving brilliant performances as they attempt to overcome the odds with little more than numbers and belief in their methods to keep them going.
Moneyball is a really good movie, only held back thanks to the subject matter and needing to keep things at least somewhat faithful to real-life events. Pitt is great, Hill is even better and their double act is what elevates this movie above what could've been a very dull affair - although Aaron Sorkin on screenplay duties helps a great deal too.